Leadership Traits

Introduction | Leadership and Vision | Leadership Traits | Annotated Bibliography | Survey Responses | Self-Assessment




The following is an outline of traits that are characteristic of good leaders, divided into seven categories: physical, emotional, social, intellectual/intelligence, communication, experience, and trustworthy. A list of the sources used to compile these traits is also included.


  • High energy level
  • Physical stamina
  • Tolerance for stress
  • Not concerned about being overworked
  • Vitality


  • Self-Confidence: may be more likely to attempt to influence, to attempt more challenging tasks
  • Desire to improve, understand own strengths and weaknesses, self-objectivity
  • Emotional intelligence: the extent to which a person is attuned to his or her own feelings and the feelings of others
  • Self-awareness, empathy, self-regulation
  • Not dwell on mistakes, view as opportunities to learn and move on
  • Ambitious
  • Courage, not paralyzed by fear of failure
  • Knows self: deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives
  • Loves what he/she does; loves doing it
  • Risk takers, confident to take risks, handle negative reactions to outcome
  • Not intimidated by superiors
  • Personal competence
  • Believe they have control over own destinies
  • Optimistic
  • Accept responsibility
  • Persistent: does not let potential objections or criticisms stop him or her; despite resistance or setbacks, keeps going and stays the course.
  • Exhibits concern for others, shows genuine interest, gives “personal touch”, gives others recognition for success
  • Encourages and engages opposing viewpoints and ideas, not threatened by them
  • Perceived by others as constant and reliable: picks position or idea and sticks to it
  • Self-disciplined in developing important skills
  • Determination
  • Good at managing one’s emotions
  • Need to achieve


  • Well-adjusted
  • Oriented toward improving self, not denying weaknesses
  • Behavior is consistent with values espoused
  • Detached: can treat followers in a fair, objective fashion
  • Honest, ethical, trustworthy: promises kept, fulfills responsibility
  • Able to convert purpose and vision to action, and produce results
  • Behavioral flexibility: adjust behavior to fit the situation
  • “Make people feel that they are at the very heart of things and that, when they are, they are making contributions to the success of the organization.” 1
  • Understands others, knows how to influence them
  • Empathy, social insight, charm, tact, diplomacy, persuasiveness
  • Bases decisions on reality and needs of others, not self-interest
  • Listens, empowers others, generates trust, negotiates collaboratively, resolves conflicts
  • Strong motivator
  • Superior listener
  • Understands small group dynamics
  • Emphasizes partnership
  • Monitors and helps followers get work done well
  • Persuades others to follow, not rely on authority to get things done.
  • Cooperates and collaborates with others
  • Ability to influence others
  • Finds common ground with all types of people and builds rapport with them
  • Takes initiative in social situations
  • Appraises readiness/resistance of followers to move in a particular direction, senses when there is dissent or confusion


  • Learns from experience and adapts to change
  • Possess extensive knowledge used by subordinates to perform the work
  • Develops inspirational image of new product or service
  • Good judgment, foresight, intuition, creativity
  • Ability to find meaning and order in ambiguous, uncertain events
  • Self-knowledge
  • Effectively plans, organizes and solves problems
  • Coordinates separate specialized parts of organization
  • Understands how external events will affect organization
  • Honest attitude towards facts, objective truth
  • Decisive: get the facts, assess information, and act, even if all information is not available, or others are not happy with decision
  • Asks for more responsibility
  • Knows how to delegate
  • “Willingness to ask questions and to search openly and without bias for practical answers to the most vexing problems.” 2
  • “Learned to experiment and withhold judgment until they have objectively assessed a situation and identified a well-reasoned course of action.” 3
  • Plans how to deal with criticism by listing benefits of project in advance and prepares to articulate them to others
  • Willing to ignore conventional wisdom in terms of looking at a problem and trying to strike out in a different direction.
  • Knowledge of organization and how it operates
  • Anticipates how others will react to situations and prepares to minimize the impact
  • Doesn’t react right away, stands back and considers the situation, suspends judgment until facts are in
  • Eager to explore new approaches to work
  • Able to combine both hard and questionable data and intuitive guesses to arrive at a conclusion
  • Bases decisions and strategies on sound intuitive and rational judgments and accurate appraisal of the potentialities of coworkers and opponents


  • Ability to communicate
  • Ability to articulate a vision and persuade others
  • Have and communicate purpose, direction, and meaning
  • Have clear goals and are determined to achieve them
  • Communicates passion to others
  • Good communication skills are essential for a leader to get followers aligned behind the overarching goals of the organization.
  • Use metaphors that others can relate to in order to symbolize their vision and inspire others
  • Experts at one-to-one communication
  • Superior speakers – major advantage, not true of all leaders
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Creates and maintains a communications network
  • Has people keep them informed on problem situations
  • Networks with people inside the organization (including those at the bottom of the hierarchy)
  • Maintains contacts outside the organization and profession that may have certain knowledge and different viewpoints from those within
  • Doesn’t depend on only one source for information
  • Able to communicate with key individuals in “areas of specialization that may each have a different dialect” 4
  • Eager to explore new approaches to their work
  • Are not fuzzy about results, interested in ways to track their progress
  • Communicates persuasively
  • “All leaders take advantage of opportunities to speak to large groups.” 5


  • Successful managers “usually had experience in a variety of different types of situations where they acquired broader perspective and expertise in dealing with different types of problems.” 6
  • May give followers freedom to take responsibility for own ideas, decisions and actions
  • Committed to collaboration and require everyone to participate in leadership
  • Has competency – is skilled in performing required tasks and has ability to mentor those that follow


  • Caring – genuinely concerned with followers’ lives and well-being
  • Empathize and care about implications of actions
  • Constancy – staff believe leader will support them, defend them and come through for them


   . Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith, Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, 3d ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books Group, 2003), 5.
   . Emmett C. Murphy, Leadership IQ: A Personal Development Process Based on a Scientific Study of a New Generation of Leaders (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996), 16.
   . Ibid., 17.
   . Marlene Caroselli, Leadership Skills for Managers (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000), 11.
   . Elwood N. Chapman, Leadership: What Every Manager Needs to Know (Chicago: SRA Pergamon, 1989), 43.
   . Gary Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, 5 th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002), 184.

Sources for Leadership Traits

Bennis, Warren, and Joan Goldsmith. Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader. 3d ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books Group, 2003.

Bennis, Warren, and Burt Nanis. Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985.

Caroselli, Marlene. Leadership Skills for Managers. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Chapman, Elwood N. Leadership: What Every Manager Needs to Know. Chicago: SRA Pergamon, 1989.

Gardner, John W. On Leadership. New York: The Free Press, 1990.

Goleman, Daniel. “What Makes a Leader?” Chapter 1 in Harvard Business Review on What Makes a Leader. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.

Murphy, Emmett C. Leadership IQ: A Personal Development Process Based on a Scientific Study of a New Generation of Leaders. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

Riggs, Donald E., and Gordon A. Sabine. “Leadership.” Chapter 10 in Libraries in the ‘90s: What the Leaders Expect. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1988.

Winston, Mark D., ed. Leadership in the Library and Information Science Professions: Theory and Practice. New York: Haworth Press, 2001.

Yukl, Gary. Leadership in Organizations. 5 th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.